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Alternative NamesChest tightness or pressure; Chest discomfort
Definition Return to top
Chest pain is discomfort or pain that you feel anywhere along the front of your body between your neck and upper abdomen.
Considerations Return to top
Many people with chest pain fear a heart attack. However, there are many possible causes of chest pain. Some causes are mildly inconvenient, while other causes are serious, even life-threatening. Any organ or tissue in your chest can be the source of pain, including your heart, lungs, esophagus, muscles, ribs, tendons, or nerves.
Angina is a type of heart-related chest pain. This pain occurs because your heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen. Angina pain can be similar to the pain of a heart attack.
Angina is called stable angina when your chest pain begins at a predictable level of activity. (For example, when you walk up a steep hill.) However, if your chest pain happens unexpectedly after light activity or occurs at rest, this is called unstable angina. This is a more dangerous form of angina and you need to be seen in an emergency room right away.
Causes Return to top
Other causes of chest pain include:
Chest pain can also be related to problems with your digestive system. These include stomach ulcer, gallbladder disease, gallstones, indigestion, heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux (when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus).
Ulcer pain burns if your stomach is empty and feels better with food. Gallbladder pain often gets worse after a meal, especially a fatty meal.
In children, most chest pain is not caused by the heart.
Home Care Return to top
If injury, over-exertion, or coughing have caused muscle strain, your chest wall is often tender or painful when you press a finger at the location of the pain. This can often be treated at home. Try acetaminophen or ibuprofen, ice, heat, and rest.
If you know you have asthma or angina, follow the instructions of your doctor and take your medications regularly to avoid flare-ups.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call 911 if:
Know that your risk of heart attack is greater if you have a family history of heart disease, you smoke, use cocaine, are overweight, or you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
Call your doctor if:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
Emergency measures will be taken, if necessary. Hospitalization will be required in difficult or serious cases or when the cause of the pain is unclear.
The doctor will perform a physical examination and monitor your vital signs (temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, blood pressure). The physical examination will focus on the chest wall, lungs, and heart. Your doctor may ask questions like the following:
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
More complex tests may be required depending on the difficulty of diagnosis or the suspected cause of the chest pain.
Prevention Return to top
Make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent chest pain from heart disease:
References Return to top
Altman EM, Smith SC Jr., Alpert JS, et al. ACC/AHA Guidelines for the Management of Patients With ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction Executive Summary: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 1999 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Acute Myocardial Infarction). Circulation. 2004;110:588-636.
Anderson JL, Adams CD, Antman EM, et al. ACC/AHA Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Unstable Angina and Non-ST-Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Committee on the Management of Patients with Unstable Angina). Circulation. 2007;116:803-877.
Smith SD Jr., Blair SN, Bonow RD, et al. AHA/ACC Guidelines for Preventing Heart Attack and Death in Patients with Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease: 2001 Update: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Circulation. 2001;104:1577-1759.
Cayley, Jr WE. Diagnosing the cause of chest pain. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72:2012-2021.Update Date: 4/29/2008 Updated by: Robert Hurd, MD, Professor of Endocrinology, Department of Biology, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH, and physician in the Primary Care Clinic, Cincinnati Veterans Administration Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.